Werner Heisenberg

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


Astro-Rayological Interpretation & Charts
Images and Physiognomic Interpretation

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Werner Heisenberg—Theoretical Atomic Physicist, Creator of Quantum Mechanics Philosopher

December 5, 1901, Wurtzburg, Germany, 4:45 AM (Source: Dewey quoting Ebertin). Died, February 1, 1976, Munich, Germany.        

(Ascendant, Scorpio; Midheaven, Leo; Sun conjunct Uranus in Sagittarius; Moon in Libra; Mercury in Scorpio; Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in Capricorn, Saturn/Jupiter conjunct; Neptune in Cancer; Pluto in Gemini)           

Werner Heisenberg was one of leading theoretical physicists of the twentieth century. He ranks, in the profundity and range of his thought, with Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, both of whom influenced him profoundly. He was first a student of and, later, a collaborator with Niels Bohr.       

Heisenberg made numerous significant contributions to the field of theoretical physics, but is best known for establishing the field of quantum mechanics and the advancement of understanding in that field. Quantum mechanics (according the Encyclopedia Britannica) is “the
science that accounts for discrete energy states—as in the light of atomic spectra—and other forms of quantized energy, and for the phenomenon of stability exhibited by atomic systems.           

As Bohr advanced the work of Einstein, so Heisenberg advanced the work of Bohr, by recognizing the limitations of the model of the atom called the “Bohr atom” and working brilliantly to develop the quantum mechanics of atomic systems. Heisenberg later collaborated with Bohr in elaborating the Principle of Complementarity.

Heisenberg received the Nobel Prize in 1932 for the creation of quantum mechanics. In 1927 he articulated an “Uncertainty Principle” with which his name has been identified. The essence of the Uncertainty Principle is the thesis that is it not possible to determine with true accuracy both the position and velocity of a subatomic particle at the same time. The meaning of this principle changes our understanding of the laws of physics; instead of absolute certainties, they become statements about relative probabilities.

Heisenberg was a philosopher as well as a physicist (especially in later years) and concentrated upon interpreting the meaning of the quantum mechanics and the theory of indeterminacy in terms of theories of knowledge. An opponent of the philosophy of Logical Positivism, Heisenberg argued that no absolute data could be revealed by observation—only “theory-laden” data, relativized and “contextualized” by the nature of the observation. In short, the observer affects that which he observes by the very act of observation.

Heisenberg’s philosophical work was also focussed on the reciprocity between certain ancient philosophical problems (such as the relation between the part and the whole, or the many and the one) and the development of microphysics—the physics of subatomic particles. As well, he was a lover of music and (like Einstein before him) believed that the laws and physics of music had much to teach the theoretical physicist.

During the Second World War he was assigned the task of developing for Germany a nuclear reactor. Fortunately, he failed to do so—many believe, deliberately. After the war he concentrated on developing a “fundamental spinor equation” which, according to the Britannica is
“a nonlinear differential equation capable of representing with spinors--complex vector-like entities—all possible particulate states of matter”. as he Postulating the existence of universal symmetries in nature, his theories took on an increasingly “Platonic” quality. More pragmatically, his voice was also prominent in promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy.           

Werner Heisenberg is clearly a representative of the fifth ray Ashram, and elements of the third and fourth rays also appear to be present.

Noteworthy Astro-Rayological Factors for Further Contemplation

1.      The major rays of Werner Heisenberg are proposed as a fifth ray soul, with the fourth ray strong within the personality nature and/or mind. There are also elements of the relativistic third ray in the lower mind. The principal monadic ray is probably the third. If one were to search for a subray of the fifth ray soul, it could very reasonably be the philosophical third ray of Creative Intelligence.    

The depth of Heisenberg’s theoretical thought, and especially his interest in the discrete unit known as the “quanta”, distinguishes him as a member of the scientific Fifth Ray Ashram. In his emphasis upon the “particle” and his willingness to accept the apparent illogic of the quantum world, he differentiated himself from Einstein, whose rays emphasized the third ray more than the fifth.          

Heisenberg’s desire to reconcile different worlds of thought—such as music and physics, or classical philosophy and microphysics suggests a strong presence of the fourth ray.    

Whatever the subray of the monad may be (the great third Ray of Abstract Intelligence) seems the most logical choice for the major monadic ray. There can be little question that his advanced work was focussed principally with the Mind rather than the Heart or Will of God.

2.      We note that there is a stellium of four major planets (plus Chiron) in the earth sign, Capricorn. Capricorn is, in one respect, a deeply material sign, and in combination with the fifth ray, is well suited to focus upon the mysteries of matter. That the planets are mostly within the third house of mind emphasizes the profound mental application of these Capricorn energies. The Part of Fortune is part of this stellium, indicating that an unobstructed flow of personal/soul energy is focussed in the area of mental enquiry.

3.      One of the outstanding conjunctions in this chart is between the Sun and scientific Uranus, both in Sagittarius and in the second house of both matter and the illumination of matter—the house of “Light”. Uranus is the ruler of both orthodox science and occult science. The Tibetan has suggested that the true scientist of the modern world is also the occultist. This is profoundly true in the case of such individuals as Einstein, Bohr and Heisenberg.          

Sagittarius is a sign which conveys the fifth ray (as well as the fourth and sixth)—for the fifth ray is the ‘ray of discovery’, thus linking it with a principal Sagittarian theme. One can see, through this conjunction, how Heisenberg’s vital energy (Sun) was identified with a great quest (Sagittarius) to unearth (second house) the occult secrets (Uranus) of matter. That the planet of the depths (and of deep research) Pluto, is opposed the Sun/Uranus conjunction, adds strength to this configuration. Both Uranus and Pluto (in a certain sense, the ‘highest’ and the ‘lowest’) are energies necessary for the revelation of the secrets of the atom (and sub-atomic particles).

This conjunction of Sun/Uranus is also conjunct the Anti-Vertex where fresh, original and unconditioned action may be initiated. Heisenberg always distinguished himself by introducing and defending new concepts. Pluto, then, is not far from the Vertex, revealing a ‘fated appointment’ with the power which research into the deep secrets of matter can reveal.     

In the chart of an advanced yogi, a Sun/Uranus conjunction opposed by Pluto would signal the potential for activating and using the kundalini. While this may or may not have been true of Heisenberg, he was, in a sense, working with planetary kundalini—the liberated energy of the atom.

4.      Scorpio, the sign of research and the profound thought required by true research, is the Rising Sign. The exoteric and esoteric ruler is Mars, in Capricorn on the cusp of the third house of mind. Interestingly, Mars rules science (EA 215), especially in the sign of its exaltation Capricorn, and in relation to the house of concrete mind. This position would add to his aspiration (Mars) to wrest the secrets from the unknown. Even on the level of macro-physics, Mars in Capricorn is adept at “mechanics”. This combination is found in Edison’s chart—also with Scorpio rising. In the case of Heisenberg it becomes much more subtle (opposing etherial Neptune—which we might call ‘Lord of the Unseen’). The T-square between Mars, Neptune and the conciliatory Libra Moon, is one outpicturing of Heisenberg’s quest to relate and harmonize the subtle (Neptune in Cancer) and the gross (Mars in Capricorn)—the world of macro-physics and that of micro-physics. Indeed, a number of his models proposed for explaining the phenomena of the micro-world were based upon the more ordinary principles of Newtonian physics. Heisenberg certainly did not repudiate Newtonian physics; he simply explained that it represented a special case in a special context just as micro-physics was also a special case in a different context. He strove for what is called “pragmatic and model-theoretical continuity” between macrophysics and microphysics. Again, this striving for continuity between the “old” and the “new” is an example of the fourth ray in action.

5.      Mercury is the hierarchical ruler of the Scorpio Ascendant and is placed in its own hierarchical position. We find it inconjunct to Neptune and sextile to Venus. The inconjunct would render the already penetrating mind more subtle. The sextile would bestow upon the already penetrating and deep mind the luminosity of Venus in its hierarchical position. We should note that both planets of the mind (Mercury and Venus) are in their hierarchical positions and also in harmonious aspect. Heisenberg’s love of music would be furthered by this aspect.

6.      Actually, a very powerful configuration exist between Mercury, Venus and Neptune—the so called, “Finger of God”—the “Yod”. The powers of the Mercury-Venus mind are focussed through Neptune and vise-versa. This is an extremely intuitive configuration, for not only are both Mercury and Venus in their hierarchical positions, but Neptune is as well. Three planets related in a Yod, and all in their hierarchical positions!

These three planets are extremely important because they rule those dimensions in the septenary constitution of man where mind and intuition interface. Venus, in its ‘position of transfiguration’ rules the illumination of the concrete mind by the higher mind; Mercury is the intermediary between mind and intuition, with power in either domain; Neptune is the ‘god of intuition’, and is the clear ruler of the buddhic or intuitional plane. Thus, we see in this configuration, buddhi-manas at work. We realize that Heisenberg was an inspired scientist, and that his intuition was leading him deeply into the Divine Mind where his theories were ‘discovered’

7.      It is needless to say that Neptune, even from an orthodox perspective, is the planet of uncertainty. When we see Neptune so intimately related to powerfully placed mental planet rulers (Venus and Mercury) we can gather insight as to the reason why Heisenberg was able to formulate the “Uncertainty Principle”. The Libra Moon added to his appreciation of ambiguity. As well, Neptune was trine to the Ascendant, where the soul-direction is to be found.

8.      Mercury, important in its own right as hierarchical ruler of the Ascendant, powerfully related to Venus and Neptune, is also closely parallel the Equatorial Ascendant, to which it is widely conjunct, longitudinally. These ‘alternative ascendants’ (Equatorial Ascendant and Anti-Vertex) must be taken into consideration as points of reinforcement (especially when planets are placed on them—as Uranus is on the Anti-Vertex and Mercury on the Equatorial Ascendant). Uranus is the higher octave of Mercury and they both give entrée into the Mind of God.

9.      Saturn conjunct Jupiter in third house. Saturn rules Capricorn exoterically and esoterically, and Jupiter is in the position of its “fall” (though strong in this position when in the chart of a highly developed person, for Jupiter assists in the psychic revelation of the soul of matter). Jupiter and Saturn are a planetary “pair”, and control the dynamics of what might be called ‘correct proportion”. In the third house, the mind expands in a visionary fashion (Jupiter) but is held in check by experiential data—the fact. Jupiter is useful in conceiving a theory of matter, and Saturn is giving it proper formulation. Together, they would contribute to Heisenberg’s notable mathematical ability, as would Venus (ruler of the sign Taurus—which “counts”).

10.  Venus can be considered unusually powerful in the last degree of the sign which it rules hierarchically, and in the house associated with the sign which it rules esoterically (namely, Gemini). This Venus position is potentially full of illumination, and could confer the ‘transfigured vision’ upon the mind—revealing the true nature of matter—beyond what merely ‘common sense’ reveals. The last degree of any sign is called a “critical degree”, and summarizes within itself the full meaning of the sign.

11.  The T-square between Mars, Neptune and the Moon has already been partially interpreted. We must note that Chiron participates in this T-square, conjuncting Mars, opposing Neptune even more closely than does Mars, and squaring the Moon. Chiron is the “Quest Guide”, directing the quest deeply into the nature of matter (Capricorn). Chiron and Mars together indicate the wounds and injuries which must inevitably arise on this adventure.

12.  This chart is unique for a conjunction of five parallels of declination contraparallel three other parallels. Uranus, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and the Sun are all parallel each other and contra-parallel Neptune, Earth, Neptune and the Vertex. The first five are concentrated (except for the Sun) in the third house, and is a parallel reinforcing the multiple conjunction in or bordering upon the third house. The second conjunction of three parallels contains Neptune (so important in relation to relativity, indeterminacy  and ‘uncertainty. The contraparallel has something of a third-house/ninth-house flavor. The many specificities explored in the third house are put in a fluid relativistic context by Neptune with its connection to the intuition (as it affects the higher mind). The eightfold contraparallel structure, again, defines opposites which much be reconciled.

13.  Werner Heisenberg was clearly a very advanced human being. Because of their perceptions of the underlying unity, it has been speculated that both Einstein and Niels Bohr had an initiate consciousness equivalent to the third degree. Given the Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn progression, and thinking about his stature in the world of thought, it would not be unreasonable to think of Heisenberg similarly.


Both matter and radiation possess a remarkable duality of character, as they sometimes exhibit the properties of waves, at other times those of particles. Now it is obvious that a thing cannot be a form of wave motion and composed of particles at the same time - the two concepts are too different.

Every word or concept, clear as it may seem to be, has only a limited range of applicability.

Natural science, does not simply describe and explain nature; it is part of the interplay between nature and ourselves.

The problems of language here are really serious. We wish to speak in some way about the structure of the atoms. But we cannot speak about atoms in ordinary language.
(Mercury in Scorpio)

The solution of the difficulty is that the two mental pictures which experiment lead us to form - the one of the particles, the other of the waves - are both incomplete and have only the validity of analogies which are accurate only in limiting cases.

The violent reaction on the recent development of modern physics can only be understood when one realises that here the foundations of physics have started moving; and that this motion has caused the feeling that the ground would be cut from science.
(Sun in Sagittarius conjunct Uranus)

What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning.

“An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them”

“Even for the physicist the description in plain language will be a criterion of the degree of understanding that has been reached.”

“There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them.”

If one finds a difficulty in a calculation which is otherwise quite convincing, one should not push the difficulty away; one should rather try to make it the centre of the whole thing.

"Not only is the universe stranger than we think, it is stranger than we can think."

Every tool carries with it the spirit by which it has been created

The exact sciences also start from the assumption that in the end it will always be possible to understand nature, even in every new field of experience, but that we may make no a priori assumptions about the meaning of the word understand.
(Sun in Sagittarius opposition Pluto in Gemini in 8th house)


Werner Karl Heisenberg (December 5, 1901 – February 1, 1976) was a celebrated German physicist and Nobel laureate, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, and acknowledged to be one of the most important physicists of the twentieth century. He was born in Würzburg, Germany and died in Munich. Heisenberg was the head of Germany's nuclear energy program, though the nature of this project, and his work in this capacity, has been heavily debated. He is most well-known for discovering one of the central principles of modern physics, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Quantum mechanics
As a student, he met Niels Bohr in Göttingen in 1922. A fruitful collaboration developed between the two.

He invented matrix mechanics, the first formalization of quantum mechanics in 1925, which he developed with the help of Max Born and Pascual Jordan. His uncertainty principle, developed in 1927, states that the simultaneous determination of two paired quantities, for example the position and momentum of a particle, has an unavoidable uncertainty. Together with Bohr, he formulated the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics.

He received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1932 "' for the creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has, inter alia, led to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen ".

In the late 20s and early 30s, Heisenberg collaborated with Wolfgang Pauli, and along with Paul Dirac, developed an early version of quantum electrodynamics. However, at the time, nobody could get rid of the infinities plaguing the theory, and it was only after World War 2 that a technique called renormalization was invented to take care of the infinities.

After the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick in 1932, Heisenberg proposed the proton-neutron model of the atomic nucleus and used it to explain the nuclear spin of isotopes.

During the early days of the Nazi regime in Germany, Heisenberg was harassed as a "White Jew" for teaching theories that Albert Einstein, a prominent Jew, had conceived. This was in contradiction to the Nazi-sanctioned Deutsche Physik movement. After a character investigation that Heisenberg himself instigated and passed, SS chief Heinrich Himmler banned any further political attacks on the physicist.

Work during the war
Nuclear fission was discovered in Germany in 1938. Heisenberg remained in Germany during World War II, ostensibly to help rebuild German science after the massive brain drain that occurred in the 1930s as a result of Nazi policies banning Jews from government jobs, which led to the expulsion of Jewish physics professors from the state universities. Heisenberg by all accounts was loyal to Germany, but not the Nazi regime. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics (of which he was the Director) was appropriated by the Nazi Heereswaffenamt. He belonged to a team led by Walther Bothe to develop one of Germany's many nuclear weapon/nuclear power programs, but the extent of his cooperation in the development of weapons has been a subject of much controversy. Heisenberg's work consisted of various efforts to create sustained fission reactions. A rival atomic bomb project was led by Kurt Diebner for Heerswaffenamt, who, with Paul Harteck worked on uranium enrichment and a uranium-based atomic bomb. Neither team was successful before of the end of the war, because of various factors including complications from various invasions toward the end of the war and lack of funding from the government.

It has been speculated that Heisenberg had moral qualms and tried to slow down the project. Heisenberg himself may have attempted to paint this picture after the war, and Thomas Power's book Heisenberg's War and Michael Frayn's play Copenhagen adopted this interpretation. This is because during a June 1942 meeting with Albert Speer, the minister for Nazi munitions, Heisenberg did not champion the project in a way which got it much attention or funding (which Samuel Goudsmit of the Alsos project interpreted as being partially because Heisenberg himself was not fully aware of the feasibility of an atomic bomb). At best, he tried to hinder the German project; at worst, he was just unable to create an atomic bomb.

The debate about Heisenberg's views on the use of atomic weapons is centered on the period from 1939-1942, during which time Germany made a decision not to pursue a nuclear weapons programme. During this period, several events give insight into Heisenberg's role in that decision. At various points evidence during the period suggested that Heisenberg deliberately was steering Germany's research efforts toward developing nuclear energy, rather than nuclear weapons. Some evidence suggests that Heisenberg attempted to communicate these views to the Allies. For example, in April 1941 a German Jewish physicist, Fritz Reiche, arrived in the United States bearing a message from Heisenberg's colleague and friend Fritz Houtermans which was relayed to American officials in the following handwritten note:

"a reliable colleague [Houtermans] who is working at a technical research laboratory asked him [Reiche] to let us know that a large number of German physicists are working intensively on the problem of the uranium bomb under the direction of Heisenberg, that Heisenberg himself tries to delay the work as much as possible, fearing the catastrophic results of a success." (Thomas Powers, Heisenberg's War: The Secret History of the German Bomb.)
Next, there was Heisenberg's visit with an old friend Niels Bohr in occupied Copenhagen in September 1941, the purpose of which has been subject of great debate. Further, German scientist Hans Peter Jensen visited Niels Bohr in Copenhagen during 1943, of which Bohr wrote that Jensen

"talked [about] efforts to increase the production of heavy water in Norway and hinted in this connection that the German physicists were only considering general technical energy generation."[2]
Finally, in May 1943 the German spy Erwin Respondek passed a report to Sam Woods, an American consular official in Zurich, that

"the Kaiser Wilhelm group [where Heisenberg was chief of theoretical work in Berlin] purposely raised 'difficulties' to slow down work on the project." (Powers, id.)
According to some Heisenberg critics, the German war efforts stalled in 1940 not because of moral qualms, but because Heisenberg had made a gross overestimate of the "critical mass" of fissionable material (Uranium 235) required for a bomb. An estimate of this amount was crucial to the decision about proceeding with a serious nuclear weapons programme because of the enormous difficulty and expense of separating the U235 from the U238 that makes up the vast bulk of natural uranium, and the length of time it would take to develop a reactor capable of transmuting the uranium into plutonium. According to some critics, Heisenberg had miscalculated the "critical mass" by not taking into account the "drunkard's walk" trajectory of the slow neutrons emitted, thereby overestimating the amount needed as being in the order of tons, not kilograms as was in fact the case.

However, the contention that Heisenberg had wrongly determined in 1940 that a uranium bomb was not technically feasible is at odds with other evidence. First, during the 1941 visit with Bohr, Heisenberg stated that

"in the preceding years [Heisenberg] had devoted [him]self almost exclusively to the question and were quite certain that it could be done," and that he "felt certain that the war, if it lasted sufficiently long, would be decided with atomic weapons."[3]
According to Bohr's later notes,

"Heisenberg said explicitly that he did not wish to enter into technical details but that Bohr should understand that he knew what he was talking about as he had spent 2 years working exclusively on this question."
It is unclear why Heisenberg would report to Bohr in 1941 that his research efforts had led him to conclude that a usable nuclear weapon was feasible if, in fact, a miscalculation in 1940 had led him to conclude that it was not feasible.

Second, after the war, Heisenberg and other German physicists were taken by the British to Farm Hall, where their conversations were monitored. The transcripts, however, are ambiguous, and subject to debate. At points, it appeared that Heisenberg had miscalculated the critical mass of uranium required for an atomic bomb —covert eavesdropping revealed that, on hearing of the Allied bombing of Hiroshima, he was at first convinced it was a propaganda trick, so sure was he that the critical mass was impracticably large. Some historians have questioned the reliability of the transcripts, as Heisenberg probably knew he was being monitored.

Indeed, there are indications that Heisenberg had made the correct calculation earlier. In June 1942 Heisenberg answered a question about the size of the fissionable core of a bomb by holding his hands to suggest something the size of a football or pineapple, which would have been roughly right. Indeed, after presenting the "incorrect" calculation to the Farm Hall scientists (including those sympathetic to the Nazi regime), one of Heisenberg's confidants, Otto Hahn, questioned Heisenberg's remark that "tons" of U-235 were needed for a bomb "But tell me why you used to tell me that one needed 50 kilograms of 235 in order to do anything. Now you say one needs two tons."[4]

Later, Heisenberg told Hahn,

"Quite honestly I have never worked it out as I never believed one could get pure 235. I always knew it could be done with 235 with fast neutrons. That's why 235 only can be used as an explosive. One can never make an explosive with slow neutrons, not even with the heavy water machine [the German nuclear reactor], as then the neutrons only go with thermal speed, with the result that the reaction is so slow that the thing explodes sooner, before the reaction is complete."
Ultimately, upon seeing the reports of the bombing of Hiroshima, Heisenberg told his friend, von Weizsäcker

"I was absolutely convinced of the possibility of our making an uranium engine [reactor] but I never thought that we would make a bomb and at the bottom of my heart I was really glad that it was to be an engine and not a bomb. I must admit that."
Whatever the cause, it is clear that on June 4, 1942, Heisenberg met with German Minister Albert Speer concerning possible uses of Heisenberg's nuclear research, and particularly its potential suitability for the development of nuclear weapons. Notwithstanding Heisenberg's September 1941 report to Bohr that he felt certain nuclear weapons could be constructed and powerful enough to conclude the war if it lasted long enough, during this meeting with Speer he highlighted the technical difficulties and vast time and materials required to separate the uranium needed for the project.

It was this meeting, and Speer's report on it to Hitler, that effectively scuttled any military applications for his work, and limited Heisenberg's work during the remainder of the war to theoretical uses of nuclear energy. As Speer wrote,

"Difficulties were compounded, Heisenberg explained, by the fact that Europe possessed only one cyclotron, and that of minimal capacity. Moreover, it was located in Paris and because of the need for secrecy could not be used to full advantage."
Curiously, Heisenberg did not mention the cyclotron in Copenhagen as a possible source for enriching uranium.

Biography and controversy
In 1956, journalist Robert Jungk published a book titled Brighter Than a Thousand Suns, which painted Heisenberg as having single-handedly and purposely derailed the German project for moral reasons. To justify the claim, in the Danish edition of the book, Jungk printed an excerpt from a personal letter from Heisenberg. The excerpt, however, was taken heavily out of context, and in the full letter Heisenberg was far more demure about whether he had taken a strong moral stance. After reading the excerpt, Bohr was understandably flustered that Heisenberg was (apparently) claiming to have purposely derailed the Nazi bomb project, as it did not match his own perception of Heisenberg's war work at all.

Some historians of science have taken the Bohr's draft letters as evidence against Heisenberg's contention that he had met with Bohr to signal that Germany's scientists would not pursue the development of nuclear weapons. Others have argued that Bohr profoundly misunderstood Heisenberg's intentions at the 1941 meeting, and that his reaction to Jungk's work was overly passionate. Significantly, Bohr's draft letters confirm virtually all of Heisenberg's recollection to Jungk of the substance of the meeting. However, as a piece of evidence the letters cannot provide an answer to the question of why Heisenberg broached the topic of nuclear weapons -- but not their technical aspects —with Bohr, or whether Bohr formed the correct "impression" of what Heisenberg wanted to say. Heisenberg's motives will most certainly continue to be debated, but it cannot be questioned that he knew Bohr was going to be escaping to the allies when he spoke to him in 1941, and that Heisenberg was risking his life by speaking to anyone about atomic power or atomic weapons.

It is also thought that Italian scientist Gian Carlo Wick approached Heisenberg in January 1944 as an emissary for the OSS as part of Operation Sunrise, to negotiate the capitulation of Nazi scientists to the Allies' Operation Alsos. Allied intelligence through Stockholm continued to sound the alarm about Nazi uranium research right up to war's end, but this was part of Diebner's project, not Heisenberg's.

"He lies somewhere here" has been his epitaph (original German: "Er liegt irgendwo hier"). [citation needed]

According to an apocryphal story, Heisenberg was asked what he would ask God, given the opportunity. His reply was: "When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: Why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first."

This story is probably untrue, as it bears an uncanny likeness to the following reported incident: the difficulty of explaining and studying turbulence in fluids was wittily expressed in 1932 by the British physicist Horace Lamb, who, in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, reportedly said, "I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic." [5]

Father: Dr. August Heisenberg, professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Wurzburg (Germany); Mother: Annie Wecklein; Wife: Elisabeth Schumacher (m. 1937, seven children including neurobiologist and geneticist Martin Heisenberg)
Nobel Prize for Physics 1932, Matteucci Medal 1929
Fellow, Royal Society, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Places he worked at: University of Göttingen (1924), University of Copenhagen (1926-27), University of Leipzig (1927–41), University of Berlin (1941), University of St. Andrews (1955-56), University of Munich (1958)
One author wrote that Heisenberg was an unexpectedly good essayist.
In 1929 he visited India and met Rabindranath Tagore. He was critical of the British colonial administration. [1]

Born: 5 Dec 1901 in Würzburg, Germany
Died: 1 Feb 1976 in Munich, Germany

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Werner Heisenberg's father was August Heisenberg and his mother was Anna Wecklein. At the time that Werner was born his father was about to progress from being a school teacher of classical languages to being appointed as a Privatdozent at the University of Würzburg. Anna's father, Nikolaus Wecklein, was the headmaster of the Maximilians Gymnasium in Munich and it was while August Heisenberg was a trainee teacher at that school that he had met Anna. August and Anna were married in May 1899. Werner had an older brother Erwin, born in March 1900, who was therefore nearly two years older than the subject of this biography.

August Heisenberg was [3]:-

... a rather stiff, tightly controlled, authoritarian figure.

He was an Evangelical Lutheran and his wife Anna had converted from being a Roman Catholic to make sure there were no religious problems with their marriage. August and Anna, however, were only religious for the sake of convention. A Christian belief was expected of people of their status so for them it was a social necessity. In private, however, they expressed their lack of religious beliefs, and in particular they brought up their children to follow Christian ethics but showed total disbelief in the historical side of Christianity.

In September 1906, shortly before his fifth birthday, Werner enrolled in a primary school in Würzburg. He spent three years at that school but then in 1909 his father was appointed Professor of Middle and Modern Greek at the University of Munich. In June 1910, a few months after his father took up the professorship, Werner and the rest of the family moved to Munich. There he attended the Elisabethenschule from September, spending only one year at this school before entering the Maximilians Gymnasium in Munich. This of course was the school where his grandfather was the headmaster.

In 1914 World War I began and the Gymnasium was occupied by troops. Lessons were arranged in different buildings and as a result of the disruption Heisenberg undertook much independent study which probably had a beneficial effect on his education. His best subjects were mathematics, physics and religion but his record throughout his school career was excellent all round. In fact his mathematical abilities were such that in 1917 he tutored a family friend who was at university in calculus. During this period he belonged to a paramilitary organisation which operated in the Gymnasium with the intention of preparing the young men for later military service.

Heisenberg also worked on farms as his contribution to another voluntary organisation which sent the boys to help in the fields in spring and summer. This work took him away from home for the first time in 1918 when he was sent to work on a dairy farm in Upper Bavaria. It was a time of great hardship with long hours of labour made worse since there was insufficient food. He spent his spare time playing chess, which he did to a very high standard, and also read mathematics texts he had taken with him. In fact by this time he had become interested in number theory and he read Kronecker's work and tried to find a proof of Fermat's Last Theorem.

After the war ended in 1918 the situation in Germany became unstable with different factions trying to take power by force. Heisenberg took part in the military suppression of the Bavarian Soviet forces but, although it was a very serious business, the young men probably treated it almost as a game. He later wrote [4]:-

I was a boy of 17 and I considered it a kind of adventure. It was like playing cops and robbers ...

In the Gymnasium Heisenberg led a youth movement and he later led a movement within the Young Bavarian League. In 1920 he took his Abitur examination and was one of two pupils entered from the Maximilians Gymnasium for a Bavarian wide competition for a scholarship from the Maximilianeum Foundation. Eleven scholarships were available and Heisenberg just made it by coming in eleventh place. His examination results in mathematics and physics were classed as extraordinary, but his essay on "tragedy as poetic art" was much less impressive. He declined the offer of free accommodation from the Foundation, preferring to live with his parents.

In the period between taking his Abitur examination and entering the University of Munich, Heisenberg went off hiking with his youth group. He nearly died of typhoid which he contracted after spending the night in a castle which had been used as a military hospital. He recovered, despite the problems of obtaining suitable food, in time to begin his university studies. During the summer of 1920 Heisenberg was, as he had been for some time, intending to study pure mathematics at university. He had read Weyl and also Bachmann's text which gave a complete survey of number theory and this was to be his intended research topic for his doctorate. He approached Ferdinand von Lindemann to see if he would be his research supervisor.

Had the interview with Lindemann been a success then Heisenberg might today be known as an outstanding number theorist. However, the interview did not go well, almost certainly since Lindemann was only two years off retiring and had only agreed to see Heisenberg as a favour to his father who was a friend and colleague. Following this Heisenberg had an interview with Sommerfeld who happily accepted him as a student.

With his fellow student Pauli, Heisenberg began to study theoretical physics under Sommerfeld in October 1920. At first he was cautious, taking mostly mathematics classes and making sure that he could revert to mathematics if the theoretical physics went badly. He avoided courses by Lindemann, however, so his mathematical interests moved from number theory to geometry. Soon his confidence in theoretical physics was such that by the second semester he was taking all of Sommerfeld's courses. He also took courses in experimental physics, which were compulsory, and he began to plan to undertake research in relativity. However Pauli, who was at that time working on his major survey of the theory of relativity, advised him against doing research in that topic. On atomic structure, however, Pauli explained, much needed to be done since theory and experiment did not agree.

In [6] Heisenberg wrote of his early days at university:-

My first two years at Munich University were spent in two quite different worlds: among my friends of the youth movement and in the abstract realm of theoretical physics. Both worlds were so filled with intense activity that I was often in a state of great agitation, the more so as I found it rather difficult to shuttle between the two.

In June 1922 he attended lectures by Niels Bohr in Göttingen. Returning to Munich, Sommerfeld gave him a problem in hydrodynamics to keep him busy while he (Sommerfeld) spent session 1922-23 in the United States. Heisenberg presented preliminary results on the problem on turbulence at a conference in Innsbruck before going again to Göttingen to study with Born, Franck, and Hilbert while his supervisor was away. There he worked with Born on atomic theory, writing a joint paper with him on helium. His doctoral dissertation, presented to Munich in 1923, was on turbulence in fluid streams.

After taking his doctorate Heisenberg went on a trip to Finland then, in October 1923, he returned to Göttingen as Born's assistant. In March 1924 he visited Niels Bohr at the Institute for Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen where he met Einstein for the first time. Returning again to Göttingen he delivered his habilitation lecture on 28 July 1924 and qualified to teach in German universities.

Heisenberg later wrote:-

I learned optimism from Sommerfeld, mathematics at Göttingen, and physics from Bohr.

From September 1924 until May 1925 he worked, with the support of a Rockefeller grant, with Niels Bohr at the University of Copenhagen, returning for the summer of 1925 to Göttingen. Heisenberg invented matrix mechanics, the first version of quantum mechanics, in 1925. He did not invent these concepts as a matrix algebra, however, rather he focused attention on a set of quantised probability amplitudes. These amplitudes formed a non-commutative algebra. It was Max Born and Pascual Jordan in Göttingen who recognised this non-commutative algebra to be a matrix algebra.

Matrix mechanics was further developed in a three author paper by Heisenberg, Born and Jordan published in 1926. In May 1926 Heisenberg was appointed Lecturer in Theoretical Physics in Copenhagen where he worked with Niels Bohr. In 1927 Heisenberg was appointed to a chair at the University of Leipzig and he delivered his inaugural lecture on 1 February 1928. He was to hold this post until, in 1941, he was made director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin.

In 1932 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for:-

The creation of quantum mechanics, the application of which has led, among other things, to the discovery of the allotropic forms of hydrogen.

In the presentation speech H Pleijel said:-

Heisenberg ... viewed his problem, from the very beginning, from so broad an angle that it took care of systems of electrons, atoms, and molecules. According to Heisenberg one must start from such physical quantities as permit of direct observation, and the task consists of finding the laws which link these quantities together. The quantities first of all to be considered are the frequencies and intensities of the lines in the spectra of atoms and molecules. Heisenberg now considered the combination of all the oscillations of such a spectrum as one system, for the mathematical handling of which, he set out certain symbolical rules of calculation. It had formerly been determined already that certain kinds of motions within the atom must be viewed as independent from one another to a certain degree, in the same way that a specific difference is made in classical mechanics between parallel motion and rotational motion. It should be mentioned in this connection that in order to explain the properties of a spectrum it had been necessary to assume self-rotation of the positive nuclei and the electrons. These different kinds of motion for atoms and molecules produce different systems in Heisenberg's quantum mechanics. As the fundamental factor of Heisenberg's theory can be put forward the rule set out by him with reference to the relationship between the position coordinate and the velocity of an electron, by which rule Planck's constant is introduced into the quantum-mechanics calculations as a determining factor. ...

Heisenberg's quantum mechanics has been applied by himself and others to the study of the properties of the spectra of atoms and molecules, and has yielded results which agree with experimental research. It can be said that Heisenberg's quantum mechanics has made possible a systemization of spectra of atoms. It should also be mentioned that Heisenberg, when he applied his theory to molecules consisting of two similar atoms, found among other things that the hydrogen molecule must exist in two different forms which should appear in some given ratio to each other. This prediction of Heisenberg's was later also experimentally confirmed.

Heisenberg is perhaps best known for the Uncertainty Principle, discovered in 1927, which states that determining the position and momentum of a particle necessarily contains errors the product of which cannot be less than the quantum constant h. These errors are negligible in general but become critical when studying the very small such as the atom. It was in 1927 that Heisenberg attended the Solvay Conference in Brussels. He wrote in 1969:-

To those of us who participated in the development of atomic theory, the five years following the Solvay Conference in Brussels in 1927 looked so wonderful that we often spoke of them as the golden age of atomic physics. The great obstacles that had occupied all our efforts in the preceding years had been cleared out of the way, the gate to an entirely new field, the quantum mechanics of the atomic shells stood wide open, and fresh fruits seemed ready for the picking.

Heisenberg published The Physical Principles of Quantum Theory in 1928. In 1929 he went on a lecture tour to the United States, Japan, and India. In the 1930s Heisenberg and Pauli used a quantised realisation of space in their lattice calculations. Heisenberg hoped this mathematical property would lead to a fundamental property of nature with a 'fundamental length' as one of the constants of nature.

In 1932 Heisenberg wrote a three part paper which describes the modern picture of the nucleus of an atom. He treated the structure of the various nuclear components discussing their binding energies and their stability. These papers opened the way for others to apply quantum theory to the atomic nucleus.

In 1935 the Nazis brought in a law whereby professors over 65 had to retire. Sommerfeld was 66 and he had already indicated that he wanted Heisenberg to succeed him. It was an appointment which Heisenberg badly wanted and in 1935 Sommerfeld again indicated that he wanted Heisenberg to fill his chair. However this was the period when the Nazis wanted "German mathematics" to replace "Jewish mathematics" and "German physics" to replace "Jewish physics". Relativity and quantum theory were classed as "Jewish" and as a consequence Heisenberg's appointment to Munich was blocked. Although he was in no way Jewish, Heisenberg was subjected to frequent attacks in the press describing him to be of "Jewish style".

In 1937 Heisenberg married Elisabeth Schumacher. He met her through his music which was important to him throughout his life. An excellent pianist, Heisenberg met Elisabeth Schumacher at a concert in which he was performing at the house of a friend. Elizabeth was only 22 when they met, Heisenberg was 35. They were married on 29 April 1937, less than three months after they first met. Heisenberg had been asked to take up the appointment at Munich in March but had asked for the date to be delayed until August because of his wedding. It was agreed that he should take up the appointment on 1 August. He and his wife arrived in Munich in July but his appointment was blocked by the Nazis.

During the Second World War Heisenberg headed the unsuccessful German nuclear weapons project Uranverein. He worked with Otto Hahn, one of the discoverers of nuclear fission, on the development of a nuclear reactor but failed to develop an effective program for nuclear weapons. Whether this was because of lack of resources or a lack of a desire to put nuclear weapons in the hands of the Nazis, it is unclear.

After the war he was arrested by Alsos, a secret mission that followed the advancing Allied forces in Europe to determine the progress of Germany's atomic bomb project. He was interned at Farm Hall in Godmanchester, Huntingdonshire, England, with other leading German scientists. However he returned to Germany in 1946 when he was appointed director of the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics at Göttingen. In the winter of 1955-1956 he gave the Gifford Lectures "On physics and philosophy" at the University of St Andrews. When the Max Planck Institute moved to Munich in 1958 Heisenberg continued as its director. He held this post until he resigned in 1970.

He was also interested in the philosophy of physics and wrote Physics and Philosophy (1962) and Physics and Beyond (1971).

Heisenberg received many honours for his remarkable contributions in addition to the Nobel Prize for Physics. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and was a member of the academies of Göttingen, Bavaria, Saxony, Prussia, Sweden, Rumania, Norway, Spain, The Netherlands, Rome, the Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina, the Accademia dei Lincei, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among the prizes he received was the Copernicus prize.


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